On Friday on my way home from work, I was thinking about the removal of toxic people from my life. I know some people don’t like describing other people as toxic. In this case, I don’t mean that the people themselves are toxic, but that they’re toxic to me, or we’re toxic to each other. (But should anyone think that a person can’t possibly be toxic, just look at the U.S. government.)
The one lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t completely rid yourself of anyone who has been impactful in your life in any way. Sometimes this is a wonderful thought, because all those people who influenced you for the better are, in some ways, still with you. But sometimes this is a rather distressing thought, because you realize that the bad shit has influenced you, too, and you can’t fully rid yourself of those influences. Our experiences and our brain wiring make us who we are, and we can’t control or undo either.
What jogged this train of thought wasn’t me dwelling on my own former toxins, but a song. Not a particularly great song, so I won’t name it, because I don’t want to slam the artist. It’s a pretty but sort of generic “bad shit happened and I’m having a hard time getting over it” piano-driven ballad, that had one really interesting line in the middle of it that caught my attention. Because I’m a sucker for small fragments of brilliance, I popped it onto one of my playlists. And because I tend to listen to playlists over and over while working, it seeped into my brain.
So on the way home Friday, I was musing about how hard that was, earlier in my adult life when I figured out that “getting over” something doesn’t mean you remove all traces of it from your life and go back to the way things were. There’s no reset button. What you’re really doing is damage control – and that’s good. It’s necessary. It’s a survival skill. And sometimes, good things can come out of it as well – even if the only good thing you can say is “I survived this,” that’s still something. (Or so says the brain of someone who, despite bad shit in her life, still has privilege that others lack.)
Then I got home, and…an envelope had arrived in my mail from my parents. I cut them off for the final time in mid-2016; they’d played nice for a while, and we kept up a cordial but distant relationship. Going into 2016, I was getting sick of my mother’s constant and very repetitive complaining, and just her overwhelming negativity. I think she was getting tired of not being able to trigger me the way she used to, or being shut down when she said things that were sexist or racist or just plain untrue. She escalated a situation unnecessarily – there was nothing wrong, she just wanted to pick a fight – and I was just done with her. What she didn’t realize was that that was her final chance, that I was using all the tools I knew how to use as a more centered, more experienced adult to set firm boundaries, and ultimately it didn’t work out because she couldn’t stop stomping those boundaries or being disrespectful.
I go through many days with no thoughts whatsoever wasted on my parents. They’re honestly not worth dwelling on; I’m in a good place in my life right now, and them being removed from my life is one of the reasons why. Which is to say, my childhood and the people responsible for it are not a subject I tend to dwell on these days.
So did the universe conspire to have that generic but slightly interesting song pull onto a public playlist to catch my attention so that I’d pull it onto the personal playlist that I listened to repeatedly Thursday and Friday which would trigger my thoughts on the way home on Friday? It’s a tiny mindfuck, even for the staunchest believe in “everything is a coincidence.” Because, much like tv shows from the 90s, I Want To Believe.
Well. Being in a better place, and not being tempted by whatever they’re holding out, and being able to enforce boundaries like a fucking boss, I wrote RETURN TO SENDER and dropped that bitch right back in the mailbox on Saturday morning.
It’s always tempting to jump into the unknown. My first and strongest instinct was to boundary enforce by returning whatever it is, but there’s always that morbid curiosity which makes us so profoundly human. Am I curious? Yes and no. I could tell it contained paper, and by the thickness, I’d guess at least 3 or 4 pages folded up. I ran through every possibility in my mind of what it could be other than a letter, but given that I have in my possession all the important personal documents I’d ever need, a letter was the most likely possibility.
I’ve received The Letter from my mother countless times throughout my adult life, because her methodology never evolves. The Letter is nothing but a long justification of all the nasty shit she ever did to me, a bunch of non-apologies (i.e., “I never said I was perfect”). Then it goes on to list all the ways in which I’m a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad person. I’m not interested in reading The Letter again. It’s meant to trigger a reaction – narcissists thrive on negativity and drama, and that’s what my mother is attempting to draw me into. They count on their victims to JADE in response to their narcissistic word stews – that stands for Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain.
I’m not willing to JADE, or be fuel to feed someone else’s ego, or indulge toxic brain misfirings. And so The Letter was returned unopened, and any cursory sense of curiosity I felt on Friday is, today, completely gone. There’s no regret and no remorse. I don’t want whatever she’s selling.
The point I’m making here is simply this: Not everything that’s written needs to be read. I don’t owe anyone second chances, or access to me, or my time. It is possible to overcome even the morbidest of morbid curiosity. DNA does not a family make, and just because someone is your mother doesn’t mean they love you. And, most importantly, it’s possible that Spotify has developed an algorithm that can predict the future.